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Exploring Brandon’s Heritage

BFER Volunteer Mary shares her experience of exploring Brandon’s riverside heritage.

Exploring Brandon’s Heritage

When I was lucky enough to be invited to the practice Brandon River History Walk (the river being the Little Ouse) I realised with some shame that I knew very little about the town. I call it a practice walk rather than “dry run” since the flooding that was causing countrywide chaos that weekend nearly caused it to be called off.

Our tour guide was Imogen Radford, project lead for the BFER oral history project, Tales from the River. Imogen was also accompanied by two experts in local history. Imogen started by explaining the importance of the river to the town for industry, trading, and the wellbeing of its residents. During the walk we heard colourful stories of Brandon people and places, too many to write about here, often illustrated with delightful old photographs.

Brandon Staunch

Our starting point was at the town playing fields where we were shown the tower of St Peter’s Church, where a lantern was hung to guide the way for shallow barges, appropriately known as lighters, first pulled by horses but then steam tugs. Another landmark which kept the boats moving is Brandon Staunch, a remarkable piece of river engineering that functioned not unlike a lock. It now just works as a sluice, with the ‘fish pass’ recently installed by BFER.

A women looking at a display board

Brandon Bridges

Rivers of course need bridges and Brandon Bridges over the years helped develop the town and were the site of its key early industries, including several maltings. The crossing also played a  role in the country’s internal defence and a temporary second bridge was built in WW2 to help with this.

Recreation

Imogen pointed out places that were important to the townspeople for recreation including outdoor swimming. Boating has also long been popular with those that could afford it but only one of many boathouses now remains in a dilapidated state. We saw photographs of grand ladies in large hats and pearls and men in smart suits enjoying themselves on the water. The Ouse Hotel, now a private house but once a temperance establishment, hosted regattas that included swimming, rowing and obstacle races and a ‘Walk the Greasy Pole’ competition. Today, boats can be hired from the Bridge Hotel.

Military history

The walk of less than 2 miles took us through or past a range of habitats, including pasture, woodland, reed beds and surprisingly part of an orchard that had been gifted to the town. The orchard provides not only a home for wildlife but remnants of perhaps Brandon’s biggest claim to fame. It was once the capital of Britain’s gunflint industry, providing all the flints for the Army throughout the Napoleonic Wars and in the orchard there are many flints still to be found underfoot.

As most good walks do the group finished with a hot drink at the Leisure Centre and a chance to talk about what we had seen and heard. Thank you so much Imogen and your fellow volunteers  for arranging such a fascinating morning.

Mary Farrell, BFER Blogging Volunteer

 

This walk took place in preparation for a guided walk, Discover Brandon’s River History, which was hosted as part of the BFER Volunteer and Engagement project

For more information about future guided walks taking place across the Brecks, stay tuned to brecks.org/events

If you would like to volunteer with BFER, we would love to hear from you! See our range of volunteering opportunities on our Volunteer Hub.

A man stands looking at a river

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